This week voters went to the polls in five American states in an effort to select the Republican Party candidate for the presidency of the United States. In case anyone is uncertain, it will be a moderate Mormon from Massachusetts. One of those states was New York, one of the most important states in the nation politically, socially, culturally and electorally, but did anyone notice? The lack of coverage this event has received is an indication that the Republican race is effectively over and threatens to end with a whimper rather than a bang.
That’s both good and bad news for the Republican Party: Good news since it means that they will finally be able to coalesce around a single candidate, but bad news as the lack of excitement threatens to reduce media coverage and whatever public interest there was in the story or in their candidate.
Until recently, the April 24 primaries had promised to be a showdown between Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner and his closest rival, Rick Santorum in what would almost certainly have been a knockout for Romney had he defeated former Senator Santorum in his home state of Pennsylvania. However, the former senator chose to throw in the sweater-vest just days after promising not to disenfranchise the remaining 50% of U.S. states that had yet to hold primaries or caucuses. Clearly Santorum elected to get out ahead of the vote and before a potentially devastating defeat in his home state.
As a result, Mitt Romney swept the board in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Rhode Island and in Pennsylvania, securing between 56-67% of the vote. Ron Paul came in second in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island, whilst Santorum secured second place in Pennsylvania despite having suspended his campaign. The big looser was the former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich had campaigned hard in Delaware, although how this fit with his previously declared ‘Southern Strategy’ is a mystery at this point. Delaware proved to be the only state where Gingrich received more than 13% of the vote, as he came third in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island and a dismal fourth in Pennsylvania. In a week when it was reported that his Secret Service detail alone is costing a reported $40,000 a day even Newt could no longer justify his continued ego-trip and promptly announced the suspension of his campaign, effective May 1. No doubt he is waiting for some cheques to clear.
So after months of campaigning, what have Romney’s competitors achieved other than a short-term boost to the sweater vest-manufacturing sector? Santorum has, unexpectedly perhaps, emerged as a national candidate. This will help erase memories of his crushing defeat in his 2006 bid for re-election that he lost by over 700,000 votes, receiving only 41% of the vote to his opponents 59%, the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent senator in 26 years. A future career as a Fox News Contributor may be his just reward.
Santorum, of course, emerged as the true winner of the Iowa Caucuses, and won 11 of the first 25 states to vote. The shockingly antiquated voting methods adopted in Iowa must surely be looked at in light of this. Were it not for this he could, and I stress could, have developed the momentum leading into New Hampshire that could have kept him in the race today. In 2000, the voting methods in Florida highlighted the antiquated methods used to elect the most powerful office in the world. Twelve years later, it seems, little has improved.
Importantly, Santorum succeeded in pulling Romney to the right, keeping him honest, perhaps, but honest to whom? Honest to Conservative values? Barely. Honest to Romney’s convictions? Far from it. It is apparent that Romney has little in common with mainstream Republican sentiment, belief or tradition. No one gets elected Governor of Massachusetts by espousing Conservative values that would be embraced in the heartland. He is, it would seem, the epitome of a RINO: Republican in Name Only.
By forcing Romney to challenge him for the traditional Republican vote Santorum may well have done more harm than good for the eventual Republican nominee heading into the general election against Obama. Romney’s campaign has already stated that they intend to say one thing in the Primaries and then essentially re-set these policies for the general election, giving rise to the allegation of being an ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ candidate, prepared to say or do anything and utterly unconcerned with investing in a set of irreversible policies.
Such statements and lack of philosophical commitment to a cause will be taken apart by the Obama campaign as the election heads into the autumn and the knives are sharpened on all sides. The president has spoken this week of not having been raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, a non-too subtle reminder of Romney’s great wealth and the divisions that clearly exist in the United States between those who have and those who do not. The White House has clearly decided which side it is going to campaign on this year, irrespective of Obamas’ own personal wealth.
With issues of race, international tensions in the Gulf and an economy that is still sluggish at best, this should be one of the most contentious and closely run presidential elections in living memory. It would be all the more so if the Republican Party had a candidate that could appeal to independents, the mainstream party faithful and Tea Party activists. In Mitt Romney, they do not and this fact alone could well lead to the re-election of Barack Obama, by default rather than by adulation.
An alternate version of this article first appeared on The Commentator on April 25